There's nothing quite like a smooth, competent historical romance when you want a few hours with a good book, and THE INNOCENT LIBERTINE strikes all the right notes. The award-winning T. Davis Bunn and his wife and writing partner, Isabella, offer this second installment in the "Heirs of Acadia" series. In it, they pick up the story of the child Abigail Aldridge from THE SOLITARY ENVOY, book one in the series.
Abigail is now a young woman whose heart is in the right place but whose impulsiveness will catapult her across the ocean to a new continent. While having every privilege in her wealthy family, Abigail feels a longing to break loose from the chains of what promises to be an uneventful life. Her good intentions and compassionate heart lead her into trouble in the depths of the Soho region in England, as Abigail deceives her parents to share the word of God with dissolute drunkards and prostitutes. But Abigail confesses to herself, was it the Lord's work she was interested in? Or was it her thirst for adventure?
Before she can give this much thought, she ends up in Cambridge Theatre, a bawdy club in Soho where the group's impassioned pleas to leave a sordid life of sin stir up chaos. For their part in the riot, Abigail and her friends are arrested and taken to Newgate Prison. Through the surprising street-wise knowledge of Countess Lady Lillian Houghton, Abigail is released. However, the newspapers turn the scandal of her behavior to their own uses, maligning Abigail's father, and the incident continues to haunt Abigail and her family.
The kind advice and encouragement from the legendary William Wilberforce sustains Abigail as she ponders, "How can God make sense of all the woe and trouble I have brought?" The Bunns paint a compelling portrait of Wilberforce as one who is plagued with illness, concerned about his country, and always ready to lend a sympathetic ear to Abigail. As Abigail, prodded by Wilberforce, examines her deepest yearnings, she finds that what she longs for most is indeed adventure, and to make a difference in her world.
Readers with these same longings will resonate with Abigail as preparations are made for her to leave England for America. Under the Countess's tutelage, she comes to realize that life is full of calculated risks, and it is inevitable to fail those who you love the most from time to time. Yet, strapped with debts and other troubles of her own, the Countess is not exactly who she seems, and she has a secretive past. Will her own disastrous circumstances lead her to betray the very girl she has helped to America?
Before she leaves, Abigail is given a commission from Wilberforce, who has received distressing letters from Erica Powers in America. The battle against slavery is not progressing well, and she and her husband, Gareth, long to return to England. Wilberforce entrusts Abigail with a message for the couple: they must evaluate what is unfolding in America's westward land movement, and write pamphlets for those in England who don't know if the claims made about the cheap land are indeed true. If so, it would be welcome knowledge. In England, the workhouses are "so full that people are being left to starve in the gateways." Famines in Wales and Ireland threaten more disaster. Wilberforce muses, "And what does our ruling government in London do?...They do nothing! They sit in their well-lit rooms and dine at their gleaming tables, while outside their very windows a nation starves!"
The story clips along at a comfortable pace as Abigail arrives in America, where she finds all sorts of new adventures and opportunities for making a difference opening up to her. Romance, of course, is also waiting. Abigail finds a chance to instill confidence in Abraham Childes, who has survived a difficult past but still fears failure. The Countess is able to unveil a hidden talent she has buried for many years when she meets an old acquaintance from her past. Soon, Abigail finds herself headed west on the National Road. A happy ending is inevitable, with a few loose ends dangling to keep readers looking for book three, THE NOBLE FUGITIVE, available in 2005.
Carefully researched settings and historical events, good dialogue and interesting fictional glimpses of well-known figures from the past, such as Wilberforce, make this a good choice for faith fiction fans of historical romance.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 1, 2004